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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Christianity's Long War Against Science

Yesterday's post described the current controversy in evangelicalism over the statements by Bruce Waltke to the effect that unless the church embraces evolution it will be reduced to the status of a cult that is completely out of touch with the world around it. One might suppose that this conflict between science and Christianity is something recent but it actually has been going on for centuries. In 1905, a book was published by Andrew White tracing the conflict. The book is entitled: A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.

In 1248, the Church (Council of Le Mans) forbade surgery on the grounds, oddly enough, that Christianity was opposed to the "shedding of blood." Later in the same century, Pope Boniface VII decreed that any dissection of the human body was a "sacrilege." (White, p. 317). The Medieval Church continued to oppose any advances in medical science (which was left up to the Jews and Muslims) because the Church supposed herself in possession of something far better that scientific methods in medicine. . . . (for example) water in which St. Remy's ring had been dipped cured fevers, wine in which the bones of a saint had been dipped cured lunacy, oil from a lamp buring before the tomb of St. Gall cured tumors, St. Valentine cured epilepsy, and so on. (pp. 324-25). It was generally believed then and still is today by some Christian groups that to seek help from physicians is to demonstrate a lack of trust in God. 2 Chronicles 16:12 condemned King Asa because, in his disease he sought not to the LORD, but to the physicians .

In 1722 Edmund Massey preached a sermon in his London church, entitled: A sermon against the dangerous and sinful practice of inoculation. His rationale? Disease is God's righteous judgment. This reminds one of the 20th century proclamations by Christians such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that HIV Aids was a divine punishment. Some of the hesitation to fund research on this in the Reagan administration might have been due to this kind of thinking. In 1798 in Boston the Anti-vaccination Society was formed by several ministers. They likewise maintained that vaccination was an attempt to defy God's will.

Christian leaders also opposed the use of anesthesia for women during childbirth because it was an attempt to override the "primeval curse on woman" as pronounced in the Garden after the Fall. According to James Tayloe Gwathmey:
the use of anesthetics in obstetrical cases by James Young Simpson met with a vigorous storm of protest. The hostility of the Scotch ecclesiastical authorities to the alleviation of pain in childbirth had its source in an old belief in Scotland. In 1591, for example, a lady of rank, one Eufame Macalyane, was charged with seeking the assistance of Agnes Sampson for the relief of pain at the time of the birth of her two sons, and was accordingly burned alive on the castle hill of Edinburgh; and this view, which stood for nothing kind, merciful, or humane, persisted even to the middle of the nineteenth century (Anesthesia [1918], p. 21).
Furthermore, as David Eller points out:
It was religion that arrested Galileo in 1633 for promoting teachings contrary to authority in works like "Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems" in which he defended the theory that the earth revolves around the sun. And it was religion that executed Giordano Bruno by burning at the stake on Februrary 17, 1600 for publishing his ideas about the movement of planets, the relativity of space, and the possiblity of multiple worlds . . . (Atheism Advanced, pp. 200-01).
Christianity has a long track record of opposing science. Even in the 21st century, we have Christians organizing to oppose stem-cell research and to promote the teaching of creationism in public schools. It seems obvious that when a group holds that a book written over 2000 years ago is the epitome of all knowledge, that group is going to oppose any advances it perceives as being contradictory to that holy book.


  1. Here's a web site with a lot more on this subject, covering both traditional and modern battlegrounds:

  2. There isn't any conflict between science and Christianity. Unless you're referring to the one in the minds of 1.6% of the North American population and the conclusions that these people draw from scientific evidence.

  3. Thesauros, can you elaborate on the 1.6 percent figure? I thought that about 40 percent of Americans (I am not including Canadians)take the Bible literally, in particular the Genesis stories, believing Adam and Eve were real people,the Creation myths, Noah's ark etc.

  4. Christian leaders also opposed the use of anesthesia for women during childbirth because it was an attempt to override the "primeval curse on woman" as pronounced in the Garden after the Fall.

    If men had to give birth, it'd be a whole other story.

  5. @ Clare
    Heck, gullibility even runs deeper if you include astrology, Feng Shui, conspiracy theory, belief in the benefit of aerobic exercise and much more !
    I'd say human gullibility runs 100% :-)

  6. belief in the benefit of aerobic exercise.